Thousands of migrants clash with police as riot cops fire tear gas to disperse crowds protesting about refugee camp conditions on Lesbos

  • Tear gas fired at some 2,000 men and women who left refugee camp of Moria on the Greek island of Lesbos
  • Protesters carried makeshift signs with the word ‘freedom’ to demonstrate against tougher new asylum rules
  • They walked some 4.3 miles towards the port capital of Mytilene, but were blocked by police outside the town
  • Over 40,000 asylum-seekers are currently crammed into camps on five Aegean Greek islands near Turkey

Police on the Greek island of Lesbos today fired tear gas at thousands of migrants protesting against tougher new asylum rules.

Brandishing makeshift signs with the word ‘freedom’, some 2,000 men and women walked out of the overpopulated camp of Moria to demonstrate.

Violence broke out near the Kara Tepe camp after hundreds of people marched from the island’s congested migrant camps to the city of Mytilene, according to a police official.

Aid groups have described living conditions in some of Greece’s island camps as appalling.

The protesters walked some 4.3 miles towards the port capital, Mytilene, but were blocked by police outside the town.

Some evaded a police cordon and crossed a slope to reach Mytilene, where a group tried to set up tents.  

Riot police use tear gas against protesting refugees and migrants during a demonstration on the northeastern Aegean island of Lesbos, Greece, today

Refugees and migrants confronting riot police during a demonstration outside the Kara Tepe camp on the island of Lesbos

A young migrant flees police during clashes with riot officers as refugees and migrants demonstrate outside the Kara Tepe camp in Lesbos today 

Riot police using tear gas during a demonstration of refugees s violence broke out on the island of Lesbos, Greece, today

A child holding a poster calling for ‘freedom’ during a demonstration of refugees and migrants outside the Kara Tepe camp

Riot police clash with migrants and refugees during a demonstration outside the Kara Tepe camp today. Riot forces used tear gas on the Greek island of Lesbos against asylum seekers

Two men collapsed on the ground after tear gas was used by riot police during a demonstration of refugees and migrants outside the Kara Tepe camp today 

Boris Cheshirkov, Greece spokesman for the UN refugee agency, said in a statement: ‘A significant backlog of pending applications and serious delays in asylum procedures have been a major contributing factor to the dangerously overcrowded conditions we see on the islands.’ 

‘Long waiting times are also contributing to the mental toll that people are facing,’ he said.

After years of procedural delays, Greece faces a backlog of almost 90,000 asylum applications, Cheshirkov said.

The conservative government elected in July has announced plans to ‘decongest’ the islands, shut down existing camps and replace them with holding centres that will process new arrivals and people whose asylum applications have been rejected.

The centres that will close include the Moria camp on Lesbos, which was set up to accommodate 2,850 people but hosts at least five times that number.

Last week, the government said it wants to install a floating barrier in the Aegean Sea, off Lesbos, to deter migrants arriving at its shores. 

A woman holding a child (centre) shouting as refugees and migrants confront riot police during a demonstration today. Two thousand demonstrated against the new law tightening asylum procedures in Greece

Refugees and migrants take part in a demonstration today. The conservative Greek government has announced plans to ‘decongest’ the islands, shut down existing camps and replace them with holding centres

A migrant suffering from the aftermath of tear gas that was used by riot police during clashes as refugees and migrants demonstrate outside the Kara Tepe camp

A migrant and a volunteer carrying an unconscious woman during clashes with riot police as refugees and migrants demonstrate outside the Kara Tepe camp

A migrant woman begged for help as police fired tear gas at protesters during clashes with riot police as refugees and migrants demonstrated today

Migrants hurling smoke canisters as refugees clashed with riot police during a demonstration outside the Kara Tepe camp

Refugees and migrants confront riot police while pushing children in prams towards a wall of shields in Lesbos today 

In 2019, Greece became the first port of entry for migrants and refugees entering Europe. 

Last year, more than 74,000 refugees and migrants arrived in Greece, among them 3,500 children, according to the United Nations refugees agency UNHCR.

Most of them arrived on the islands Lesbos, Chios and Samos, crossing from Turkey.

The government has struggled to manage the influx, keeping many in overcrowded camps on the Aegean Greek islands near the Turkish coast.

More than 40,000 asylum-seekers are currently crammed into camps on five islands, where the official capacity is for 6,200 people and in conditions repeatedly condemned by aid agencies.

The conservative government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has toughened its approach to asylum-seekers and is trying to speed up the repatriation of people whose applications have been rejected.

At Moria, where over 19,000 people live in and outside a camp built for fewer than 3,000, many are housed in tents and makeshift shelters without access to power, heating, or hot water, Cheshirkov said. 

A migrant woman holding a child during clashes with riot police. The Greek government has struggled to manage the influx of migrants, keeping many in overcrowded camps on the Aegean Greek islands near the Turkish coast

Migrants and volunteers carrying a man who was injured during clashes with riot police on the Greek island of Lesbos today

A migrant holding a child during clashes with riot police as a fire rages in the background. The demonstration was held to protest severe overcrowding at the island’s refugee camp and delays in the asylum procedure

Riot police block a road to prevent protesting migrants from reaching the island’s main town of Mytilene during a demonstration on the northeastern Aegean island of Lesbos today

A man covered his face as he was swamped by tear gas used by riot police during a demonstration of refugees and migrants outside the Kara Tepe camp

A man comforts a crying child during clashes with riot police in a demonstration in Lesbos. Riot forces used tear gas against asylum demonstrating seekers today 

‘There aren’t enough latrines and showers and access to health is severely limited,’ he added. There are also frequent outbreaks of violence. 

The new Greek minister for migration Notis Mitarachi, appointed just two weeks ago, has vowed to expel ‘on a weekly basis’ migrants whose asylum applications are rejected.

‘Those not entitled to international protection will be rapidly returned to Turkey,’ Mitarachi told Kathimerini daily on Sunday.

‘We believe…this will send a loud and dissuasive message to human smugglers,’ he said.

In another apparent attempt at deterrence, Greece’s defence ministry last week put out a call for a floating barrier in the Aegean to stop migrant boats.

The system – criticised as unethical and impractical by opposition parties – could involve either barriers or nets, 1.7 miles long, and would be used as an emergency measure by the Greek armed forces.

Refugees and migrants are seen on a slope as they try to evade a riot police cordon and reach the city of Mitylene, during a demonstration outside the Kara Tepe camp

Refugees and migrants taking part in a demonstration outside the Kara Tepe camp near Mytilene port on the island of Lesbos

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